GreenBay Packer Nation

Facing the Realities of the Stretch: The Game That Will Define the Packers

The Packers, even after a seemingly endless November skid, still find themselves in the playoff hunt. Largely by virtue of the weakness of the NFC North, a win against the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night gives PackerNation hope that all is not lost. With Aaron Rodgers at the top of his game (hamstring issue not withstanding) and a defense that, though ugly at times, held the Eagles to just 13 points, people must be positive about the chance to get back to Lambeau and hopefully put together a string of wins. The Texans stand in the way in the short run but there are some other realities that go beyond even the hope that the Packers can get into the playoffs…and will come into sharp focus if they do.

Reality #1: Beneficiaries of a weak division

If the Packers make the playoffs, it will be largely due to the general weakness of the NFC North. This is all well and good because, as Aaron Rodgers has said, “Anything can happen” once a team makes it to the playoffs, but one has to question the viability of any team winning the North this year. Granted, the Packers would certainly be sporting a confidence-boosting run if that is the case because they would have had to bounce back from being under .500 past mid-season. However, that run will include the last three games against that same, weak, NFC North

Reality #2: Players not returning

With the announcement that Eddie Lacy will not be coming back this year, the Packers know that they will have to find a running game with some combination of James Starks, Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael, and Aaron Ripkowski. If they make a run, it would stand to reason that they develop something in that regard. Maybe Michael proves his mettle, maybe Starks’ veteran presence and continued improved health brings back the 2010 magic. Regardless, reality is that this Packers team will have to move forward without their feature back. They would need a prove it game to show that they can be dominant against the best with any combination that doesn’t include Eddie Lacy. Add to that the fact that the Packers’ defensive backfield took a big step back when Sam Shields got hurt and again…prove it game needed.

Reality #3: The competition

While it is true that anything can happen in the playoffs (and, if 2010 was any lesson…epic things can happen), and I truly believe the Packers have a shot at getting there, the competition gets ramped up in the event that they do. Can the Packers compete? I think they can…but again…they need a marquee win to prove it to themselves.

While the Packers need to focus on one game at a time, there is one game that I will (literally) have my eye on. The Packers have yet to have a game this season that proves that they are really back. Aaron Rodgers has been money for a long time, but the defense has been a sieve. Before that, the defense held the line while the offense struggled. Now the Packers have injured players that will not be back. This is a scrappy team, no doubt, but they need a win that says they can beat teams outside their own weak division.

Circle the Seattle Seahawks game.

If the Packers can find a way to beat the Seahawks at Lambeau on December 11th, they have their marquee win. The Seahawks have been good for a number of years and always find a way to turn it on when it matters. Aaron Rodgers will have his work cut out for him against one of the best defensive backfields he will face, and now a familiar one after so many meetings in the regular season and playoffs. If Green Bay can compete with the Seahawks, they can compete…period.

So to me, the most important game of this final stretch is the Seahawks game (yes, I know they have to take one at a time), if the Packers find a way to pull that off…the future could be bright. If not, the Packers may still win the North and certainly anything can happen after that but I think they will still be looking for their prove it game. And if they don’t find it during the season, I would not expect them to find it in the playoffs.

Go Pack!